Making Love Last: Real Couples Share Their Stories

Couples in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 70s tell us how they make love and wedded bliss last.

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Sarah and Jay Hatler


Sarah Hatler, 35, musician

Jay Hatler, 39, musician and music teacher

Years married: 13

Children: Elijah, 4, Zoe, 1 1⁄2

Arlington, Texas

Sometimes we almost miss the obvious. "My friends teased me about the new, good-looking trombone player my sophomore year in college. I wasn't sure who they were talking about because I was so focused on my music," Sarah recalls. "The next time we were all together, I realized there was a really handsome guy in my studio, and I wondered how I could have been so blind!" But once Sarah finally started spending time with Jay as a friend, she knew they had a future. "I remember telling myself it was okay that he took several months to ask me out, since we'd have our whole lives to spend together."

She was right. Marriage and parenthood followed, and the latter left Jay with a newfound sense of respect.

"After witnessing the birth of my children, I hold my wife, and women in general, in even higher esteem. I have no idea how after having one child a woman agrees to have more. The physical and mental challenges are mind-blowing!"

Sarah appreciates Jay's heart most of all. "He can seem like a really serious and tough guy, but he's so caring and loving, and he isn't ashamed to show it. He writes a poem to each child on every birthday and reads it out loud when we're celebrating with family. There's not a dry eye in the room."

The two musicians have spent extended periods apart but realized it was not healthy for their marriage, so they won't take jobs that would put too much time and distance between them. And while both cherish what they have together, they recognize the importance of holding on to oneself. "Attack life as a team, but allow the other to remain an individual. Don't lose yourself in all the sacrifices you make for each other and the family," says Jay. "Just because you're married with kids doesn't mean you need to let your identity fade."

More thoughts from Jay:

How have you created a balance in your lives when it comes to working, parenting, cooking, taking care of the house, managing finances, etc.?

The biggest challenge for us is the financial thing. Having one musician in a relationship is hard enough financially, but two? That's a recipe for disaster. As far as domestic responsibilities, I'd say it's about 60/40—Sarah being the 60 and me the 40. She does a great job with the financial side and staying on top of things the kids need.

How do you handle your problems and disagreements?

We don't really have too many issues. But when we do, I'm usually really passively aggressive for a few days, and then we end up talking it out.

What the most difficult thing about being married?

This question has always seemed odd to me. I've never found marriage to be all that difficult. If it's that difficult, then why stay in it? And this is where I jinx myself.

More thoughts from Sarah:

How did having children change your relationship?

Having children has made our marriage stronger because we always wanted kids, and feeling like your family is complete is very reassuring. Being parents has made our bond stronger; we take such pride in seeing the amazing little people we made together. It's a challenge because we're pretty much always tired and hardly ever get to do stuff without the kids around. There's no such thing as a lazy day anymore!

Have you created a balance in your lives when it comes to working, parenting, cooking, taking care of the house, managing finances, etc.?

I think we have a good balance. We each do what we're better suited to doing. I got very lucky in finding a man who is helpful around the house and doesn't need to be asked multiple times to do something.

Growing up with a single mom who did it all, it was an adjustment when we had kids because I felt that as the mom, I should be doing most of the work with the baby. I remember Jay telling me that he was as responsible for our child as I was and wanted to do more. We're a team when it comes to parenting; we don't keep score, and we both put the kids to bed together, take turns in the mornings and more.

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Dalida and Nick Clifton


Dalida Clifton, 50, automotive product specialist

Harold "Nick" James Clifton, 44, field engineer

Years married: 10

Child: Nicholas, 9

Charlotte, North Carolina

Dalida first caught Nick's eye at an automotive event. "She wasn't all dolled up—she had very little makeup on and was wearing a polo and khakis, yet she still stood out. I think what attracted me to her was her confidence and how quick she was to laugh." When Nick's coworker hit his head on the side mirror of a Ford F-150 truck that Dalida was talking to them about, she lost it. "Without hesitation or reservation, Dalida began to laugh—and not just a cute giggle but a bent-over, tears-in-her-eyes belly laugh," recalls Nick. "It was beautiful." For her part, Dalida says she loved how easily their conversation transitioned from cars to family, life and food. "We talked for only two hours, but I felt like we'd known each other for decades."

They've been laughing for 10 years now, staying connected through their son, Nicholas, and through faith. "I love how my wife puts God first in her life and our lives," says Nick. "She has helped me grow so much spiritually, and she's brought me out of my shell. If not for her I probably would not be nearly as involved in our church as I am now. She encourages me and is always talking about the potential she sees in me, while at the same time keeping me grounded.

In 2009 their marriage was tested when Nick was laid off. The family of three had to put their belongings in storage and move in with Nick's mother. "To add to the stress, after convincing Dalida it was the right move for us, I took a civilian contractor job as a security systems engineer in the combat zone in Afghanistan for eight months. She was left with Nicholas in my mother's house until I came back and we were able to buy a home," says Nick. "That year nearly broke our marriage, and it took time to completely recover. Looking back, I learned that marriage is a struggle sometimes, but I also learned what it really means to be a family and to love someone regardless of what the world throws at you." He knew his wife was frustrated and angry, but it didn't show. "She never belittled me or gave up on me. She always encouraged and supported me. I tell her to this day that in my mind I could see the disappointment in her eyes; she denies I saw any such thing. She never once voiced anything but love."

What does drive Dalida crazy is Nick's little habit. "I have three separate clothes hampers in the house, and yet it's still easier for Nick to leave his dirty clothes on the floor on his side of the bed instead of walking less than five feet and placing them in the hamper!"

Dalida says she's happiest when the family is all together and she can admire her husband and son. "I love the father that Nick is to Nicholas. Nick grew up without his dad, so it always amazes me how becoming a parent came so naturally to him. It's these 'daddy' qualities that make me love Nick more every day."

More thoughts from Nick:

How do you handle your problems and disagreements?

First, we don't yell at each other or call each other names. If either of us is angry to the point of yelling, we walk away until we calm down and then come back and discuss the issue, because neither of us ever wants to have to apologize for something we said in anger. We both agree that even though you may have said it only in anger, you still meant it and you can't take it back. That time we take gives us a moment to reflect on what the issue is and whether it's a big enough deal to continue with the conversation. If we still don't agree, we can usually just agree to disagree and leave it at that and try to never take it personally.

What's the most difficult thing about being married?

For me it's not being able to always make my wife happy. I'm a firm believer in "happy wife, happy life," but it's not just trying to appease her; it's a genuine desire to see her smile and laugh. It hurts me to see her struggling and/or stressed about anything, and because she's an independent woman she tries to keep her problems to herself and work them out on her own. I can see it on her face and hear it in her voice when she's dealing with something, and over the years I've become able to get her to talk more about those issues. But she still tries to keep them from me at times, even though she knows I'm here for her.

When are you two happiest?

Just sitting around the house or lying in bed talking about life. Dalida and I can talk to each other about anything, and all our friends and family know that if you tell one of us you've told both of us. We have discussions every day about everything from the latest celebrity gossip to the presidential race, from how was our workday to race relations in America. We talk about what Nicholas has been doing in school and how much he's just like one or the other of us when he's cracking jokes and dancing through the house. No subject is off-limits and I think we're happiest just exploring each other's minds.

More thoughts from Dalida:

In which ways does he bring out the best in you?

Nick is beyond supportive of anything I embark on, whether or not I have the confidence to get it done. His classic response is "Babe, you can do it. Whatever you need me or Nicholas to do, we will do for you." That alone gives me the confidence and reassurance to be the best I can be.

What is the most difficult thing about being married?

Giving up my independence. Having gotten married at 40, I was pretty set in my ways. Needing to consult someone else about what I'm going to do, where I'm going, and justify my shopping was a huge adjustment. It's still difficult, even after years of marriage, but I've gotten a lot better.

When are the two of you happiest?

When we have family time. Doesn't matter if we're watching a movie, playing Monopoly or Scrabble, or reading. The time we spend laughing, joking and playing are the best times for me.

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Megan Manzi and Luke White


Megan Manzi, 34, blogger

Luke White, 34, songwriter and producer

Years married: 10

Child: Ainsley, 9 months

Los Angeles, California

Megan will admit it—she was a groupie of Luke's for three years before actually working up the nerve to talk to him. "His voice melted me—and the way he danced around onstage in his ripped jeans helped too. I watched him play everywhere from dive bars to the local church. After we finally connected face-to-face, I called my dad and said, 'This is the man I'm going to marry.' A year later, we did."

Luke was initially attracted to how bold and charismatic Megan was and found himself smitten after only a month. "I love that she always says exactly what she's feeling. I'm never stuck guessing. She's forthcoming and honest to a fault. It's very liberating in a relationship," says Luke. "She demands honesty from me. I've learned not to hold back or hide how I'm really feeling. I've also learned how to strongly state my own opinions and feelings."

The couple is open about the hard parts of marriage. "Embracing the individuality in each other can be challenging. And that means never unintentionally holding the other person back! That goes for the big and small things," says Megan. "Luke's love of sci-fi movies and college football isn't for me, but I try to make sure he has time with his friends for every premiere and game. And on a bigger scale, I've completely changed careers three times during our relationship, and Luke has encouraged me—even when it made things financially stressful. One person's hobbies and passions certainly don't always line up with the other's." A rough spot in their marriage came when Luke's band, Atomic Tom, started getting recognition at a time when Megan's career was going through a lull. She was thrilled for him but also felt left out. "We had to work hard to reconnect and stay united," she says.

The birth of the couple's daughter less than a year ago, which Luke calls "the greatest thing that's happened to us," also changed the direction of their usual Friday night dates. "Nowadays a 20-minute hummus break on our front steps while she naps is often the most we can manage. But we've promised to keep the Friday dates, no matter how simple they've become," says Megan. And when she feels stress, she just relies on Luke. "All my anxieties fade away when he sings, and now I get to hear him sing every night to our baby. His voice helps silence all the hustle and bustle going on in my head. It's the sound of home."

More thoughts from Luke:

What was biggest challenge you faced in your marriage and what did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge so far has been the birth of our daughter. It changed so many of the practical elements in our marriage immediately. I was proud of how much we planned for it, talked about it, prepared for it. But so many factors came into play that it really threw us! Unexpected challenges from the pregnancy, delivery and birth. We've had to really come together and hold on to the things in our relationship that matter.

Are there any aspects of your married history that you wish you could do over or change?

I wish I could have made Megan a bigger part of my music career over the past 10 years, even taken on her on tour more. I put weird borders around that part of my life for so long and I'm not sure why. It wasn't loving or respectful, and it certainly made things harder for us.

What is the best piece of advice you'd give to other couples?

Nothing else is as important as your relationship. Climb your individual mountains and come back to each other at base camp. Often. And for all the right reasons.

More thoughts from Megan:

How do you handle your problems and disagreements?

We talk everything out. Everything. Because we've learned quickly that even a small issue can start to fester if not addressed. I'm very direct, for better or worse. But I'm still working at saying things in a more caring, less aggressive way. And at an appropriate, private time! I have to admit I've been known to bring up a marital gripe or two at the completely wrong moment. You know, let's just say family holidays aren't the time to hash things out. Christmas dinner tastes better without the awkward silence of your in-laws!

What does your partner do that still drives you insane?

Pre-coffee, we are not at our finest. His snarkier jokes can sometimes land the wrong way on me if I haven't had a fair amount of caffeine or wine!

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Myrna and Joseph Thomas


Myrna Thomas, 49, Bikram yoga instructor

Joseph Thomas, 46, corporate performance management consultant

Years married: 19

Children: Dylan, 16, Ethan, 14

New York, New York

"How do we handle our disagreements? I throw a dish. He stomps his foot. I yell. He yells. I yell louder. I win!" laughs Myrna. Having a sense of humor is key to any good marriage, and it's one of the many things that help this playful Manhattan couple stay connected.

Joseph appreciates how Myrna brings out the best in him. "I'm complicated and she knows me, typically better than I think, which has helped resolve many disagreements." He says his biggest adjustment to being part of a couple was learning to grow out of youthful tendencies. "I had a hard time taking things seriously; I expected everything on my own terms." Joseph feels that Myrna has made him more mature and open.

Adapting to marriage and parenthood presented both with challenges. For Myrna, "the most difficult aspect was being true to myself while taking Joe and our sons into consideration." She admits that motherhood got off to a rocky start. "Dylan's first year was rough; then Ethan was born 17 months later. I put so much energy into being a great mom that I had no energy for myself or being a wife. We were so busy and tired, but we still managed to sit for 15 minutes to just talk. I think the biggest challenge for us as parents is to always be on the same page—or at least reading the same book! I realized my marriage is a high priority and must remain so." Joseph shares the one thing he'd like to do over: "I had a hard time understanding how to be a dad. I wish it hadn't taken me so long. Our kids are awesome! They remind us every day of ourselves, the good parts."

Myrna, who thinks her husband is "generous, kind and extremely passionate," wouldn't change a thing. "I'd live it exactly the same way. Everything we've experienced as a couple has led us to this moment." Joseph says he's grateful to have found someone like Myrna. "She is the good that people see in me."

"The best piece of advice? At the end of the day, it's all about the two of you," says Myrna. "You chose to build a life together—build it. Together. And treat each other like best friends and mean it. Okay, that's two things!"

More thoughts from Myrna:

What does Joe do that still drives you insane?

Oy....he's late for EVERYTHING!

How have you created a balance in your lives when it comes to working, parenting, cooking, taking care of the house, managing finances, etc.?

We kind of just fell into a rhythm. Some things were also just taken for granted (he's better at budgeting, so he manages finances). I love to cook, so I do the cooking, and so on and it works. No one gets taken advantage of or is stuck doing the majority of the work. No resentments.

More thoughts from Joe:

What does Myrna do that still drives you insane?

Procrastinate. She knows that if she waits long enough on a task, I'll just go ahead and take care of it. Drives us both crazy.

When are you two the happiest?

When I look at her and I see that she knows exactly what I'm thinking and feeling.

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Batya Zamir-Van Buren and Richard Van Buren


Batya Zamir-Van Buren, 73, artist, dancer and psychotherapist

Richard Van Buren, 78, artist and sculptor

Years married: 47

Children: Shula, 46, and Zak, 38

Perry, Maine

Richard was initially drawn to Batya's "beauty and high energy," but there was a moment when everything clicked. "It was the night I decided I was going to break off our relationship because I thought it would be too much work. Batya got angry and hit me on the side of the head with her purse. Then I knew she was the one—she really cared!" For Batya, affection for the "tall, very good-looking man" flowed organically. "I don't think there was one particular moment. Just a slow realization after a few dates that there was some deep sense of connection. I felt he 'knew' me in ways others didn't."

Still, Batya is honest about the adjustment it takes to commit. "The most difficult thing about being married is the need to constantly pay attention to the other. It requires tremendous work. And in our case it has been how to communicate through differences in thinking and feeling."

The couple, proud parents of two "creative, loving beings," have enjoyed a four-decades-plus marriage and taken everything that comes with it. "We've gone through tremendous changes. Our life and development have been a process and a real roller-coaster ride of emotions in all areas," says Batya. At one point the two separated, which they both still recall with sadness. "It was a terrible, terrible situation. But we survived," says Richard. "An extremely painful period," adds Batya, "and yet we learned a lot about ourselves. It seems that important growth and positive change happen during hard times." Richard also sees the upside. "Friction is not negative. Without it you don't feel as much."

When are they happiest? "When we are being loving to each other," says Batya. "And when he's sculpting and I'm dancing." Richard happily adds, "I like the fact that she's beginning to learn to laugh. Her honesty is sometimes brutal, but it gives me great trust in our relationship...and I love to watch her dance."

More thoughts from Richard:

How do you handle your problems and disagreements?

I usually start off arguing in a very loud voice, and I try to keep the intensity up until I see some daylight; then I can begin to possibly see Batya's point of view.

How did having children change your relationship?

When we had our first child, it felt like our telephone was disconnected. Most of my artist friends stopped calling. They did not know how to deal with even the idea of a family with children. Having a family in the New York art world was unusual in my peer group. Batya and I had no standard to compare or learn how to raise children in Soho. It was a period of consciously supporting the family. Before then, economics was nothing I took seriously. Being parents to our children made it very clear to me that art was not the only way to develop as a human being. I found great joy in my children. I have tremendous pride in both of them. They are creative, loving beings. My daughter is an actress and my son is completing his first novel.

What's the most difficult thing about being married?

To realize you live in a world that's bigger than yourself.

More thoughts from Batya:

In which ways does Richard bring out the best in you?

In the early years of our relationship, Richard was more adventuresome than I and more willing to take chances. He was more secure with spontaneity and traveling to foreign countries without a plan. He was more secure with our meager economics, always thinking that things would work out. I have to thank him for our home in Maine, which at the time it was bought I thought we would never be able to afford the payments. And now it's our primary residence. It's a quiet place where I can hear myself think and where my connection to nature has provided me with much peace.

How do you handle your problems and disagreements?
In the early years our emotionality over a given issue would make it difficult to hear each other. There was a lot of yelling trying to be heard by the other, as if raising our voices would facilitate that. But in time, and with a lot of therapy, we are better these days at hearing each other. Sometimes it still takes time to get to that point where we can hear and understand what the other is saying. There's a painful feeling of disconnection when we disagree. It's as if he no longer knows me.

How have you created a balance in your lives when it comes to working, parenting, cooking, taking care of the house, managing finances, etc.?

We've gone through tremendous changes over the years. Our life and development have been a process and a real roller-coaster ride of emotions and changes in all the areas mentioned. Our children no longer live at home, so there are fewer personalities to deal with on a daily basis. Nevertheless, with just Richard and me there's still, and always will be, a highly charged dynamic, which most of the time is very positive.

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Online Exclusive: Nubia DuVall Wilson and Christopher Wilson


Nubia DuVall Wilson, 33, marketing/writer

Christopher Wilson, 40, engineer

Children: Ella Wilson, 2; Lucas Wilson, 1

Years married: 7

South Orange, New Jersey

What initially attracted you to him/her?

Nubia: We met on in 2006. My roommate in NYC at the time found his profile and told me to check it out. I liked that Christopher's profile said he was creative and enjoyed painting. When we had our first date I was surprised that he was outgoing and had a sense of humor.

Christopher: She has a beautiful smile and I remember on our first date I kept trying to make her laugh just to see it again. Her sense of humor and intelligence were a turn-on and I found her very easy to be with.

Was there a moment when you knew that your partner was "the one"?

Nubia: By our third date, I knew he was the one and even told him I wanted to date him exclusively. All of a sudden I realized that Christopher had all the qualities I wanted in a husband, but I never knew I wanted or needed those qualities in a man until I met him.

Christopher: Soon after we met I knew she was someone I wanted to be in a committed relationship with. I think that was by the second or third date.

Which qualities do you love most about your partner?

Nubia: I love that I can have deep, intellectual conversations with him about philosophy and life, and I can be very silly and joke around. We share similar interests, such as travel, art, self-improvement, good food and wine. He is also an amazing father who takes an active role in parenting, which is very important to me.

Christopher: I love that Nubia is caring and so supportive, right from the beginning of our relationship. She is committed to family and her principles, which are also very attractive qualities.

In which ways does he or she bring out the best in you?

Nubia: He reminds me of my best qualities, which I love because I tend to focus on what I don't do well. He supports me in everything I do, from being a working mom and writing to being a mother to our two children.

Christopher: Nubia gives me strength and motivation just when I need it.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your marriage and what did you learn from it?

We had to learn how to communicate better with each other. Even though we had dated for three years before getting married in 2009, we realized that we still didn't communicate as well as we wanted to when we had disagreements. We read The 5 Love Languages together and it really turned things around for us! We learned that we didn't always understand where the other person was coming from. The book explained how our needs differed and how to support those needs.

How do you handle your problems and disagreements?

Nubia: When we have disagreements we normally try to talk it out calmly and respectfully with each other—this doesn't always happen when we're tired after a busy workday. Sometimes you just need to give your partner space and then return to the issue after you've both calmed down. Often apologizing for the misunderstanding is a good way to return to the problem because it shows you care and you want to fix whatever the issue is.

Christopher: Macy's gift cards solve all problems!

What does your partner do that still drives you insane?

Nubia: He is a do-it-yourselfer and very stubborn about wanting to handle every repair and renovation in our house on his own. I love that he has a natural knack for construction, but I had to put my foot down and demand that we hire contractors once our children were born!

Christopher: Nothing. After nine years together, six years of marriage and two children she is well trained (kidding!) and perfect!

How did having children change your relationship?

Aside from sleep deprivation, we have less quality time with each other and for our side projects. Kids add another challenge to the relationship and it can be stressful. Christopher was very good about reminding us to have dates once a month outside of the house shortly after Ella was born. We give each other space a few times a week to work on our projects after the kids go to bed. We've also started to go on quick weekend getaways alone. It was a tough decision at first, because we didn't want to "abandon" our kids for two nights, but we took the plunge and it was amazing! It will be an annual thing.

What is the most difficult thing about being married?

Not being able to spend every moment together enjoying each other's company without the stress of work, kids and tough life decisions clouding our thoughts. Being in the moment with each other is something we try to do often, and we remind ourselves to be thankful that we found each other.

Have you created a balance in your lives when it comes to working, parenting, cooking, taking care of the house, managing finances, etc.?

Before we reached a new milestone in our life we always created a list of our values, likes and dislikes to better understand each other. For example, before we lived together I suggested we write down our best and worst habits. Before having kids we discussed what type of parents we wanted to be and how we would raise our kids. Once you discuss these things out in the open, a great connection is created that helps you get on the same page. From there, a lot doesn't have to be discussed when you're "in it" every day—it's just understood. Delegating comes naturally to both of us, so we do it often to remind each other how to help get things done, such as cooking breakfast while the other parent is getting the kids dressed. Divide and conquer is the name of the game!

When are you two the happiest?

The best moments are with our children, Ella and Luke, and when our extended family (cousins, grandparents, etc.) spends time together. Some of the best times with our children have been during vacation, and those are extremely happy moments.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other couples?

Learn to let things go and be flexible. Wait to have kids. Life will change drastically for the better, but having a few years of quality time together is something we appreciated.

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Online Exclusive: Israel Segal and Dane Holweger


Israel Segal, founder of Free Your Mane, a hair and skin care company

Dane Holweger, freelance production designer for still photography

Children: Nola and Ziggy, 12

Married since: July 18, 2015 (after 18 years together)

Los Angeles, California

Sometimes, all it takes is the right call at the right moment. "We actually met on the phone," says Israel. "I hired Dane to help me art direct a campaign and we talked for a couple weeks before we connected in person. Collaborating on a project made it easier to get to know each other, and I could tell right away that we had an ease of conversation and that we got each other's jokes. But I had no idea what he looked like yet, so I didn't know how handsome he was. Good thing too—I probably would've been intimidated." Dane was initially drawn to Israel's voice and sense of humor, and felt there was a palpable chemistry between them. Then they finally met. "We both really liked what we saw and I never looked back," shares Dane. "Almost 20 years in, his voice and sense of humor still rank right up there with my favorite traits."

Both men were in their 30s when they met, and both had a pragmatic approach to dating. "We love the fireworks but not every day is the Fourth of July," notes Dane. "I don't believe there is only one person waiting somewhere in the world for you–I believe there are many people you could love and share the rest of your life with, but there's something special about the one who finds you when you are ready for that grown-up relationship. Israel is my soul mate." Israel can't recall the exact moment when everything clicked. "I'm not sure I believe in 'the one.' I had a series of 'the ones' in my 20s, and believe you me they were not 'the one'! With Dane it was more a series of moments that built on each other over time, a slow burn. What I did know right away was that we just kind of 'got' each other; there wasn't a lot of exposition necessary. He makes me laugh all the time. That counts for a lot!"

Twelve years ago Israel and Dane adopted African American twins. For many couples parenthood, even with all its wonder, can present new trials, but for a couple made up of two dads there can be additional hurdles. "Building a family with two beautiful children is my greatest joy and presents my greatest challenges," says Dane. "We've learned to allow the kids, now 12, to know their story in age-appropriate increments—from 'Your mommy was not well and could not care for you properly' to 'Your mother had a drug dependency issue that influenced the choices she could make as a parent.' Our communication has benefited greatly through the process of learning to communicate with our kids. They love us dearly, they express that freely, and on rare days they do wish they could know their birth mom."

When Israel and Dane's children were toddlers, the family was unwittingly featured in a story for a local paper that was misrepresented to them as an introduction to transracial adoptive families. "A 'Christian' woman wrote in saying the transracial aspect paled next to the two daddies thing as concerning," says Dane. "I'd love to send her the handmade happy Father's Day cards, the honor roll certificates, the pictures of our family trips to Italy and Mexico, the letter of love our daughter wrote and read to us at our wedding...the list goes on. But I wish that woman well, and wish for her enlightenment because, as our kids make clear every day, love is the ultimate 'Christian value' and it isn't the property of any religion."

What defines this couple most is the love they share and the way they bring out the best in each other. "Israel has always found it within himself to extol my virtues and talents to anyone who will listen," says Dane. "He speaks of my integrity and artistic skills—he makes me want to be the person he sees. Not that he has a skewed image of me, but rather he reminds me of my best self on the days I may need reminding." Israel initially responds with a joke: "Sometimes he brings out the worst in me too—I think you stop being on your best behavior after the first few years together. Otherwise your interaction must be pretty superficial. But honestly he sees the best in me too, which helps me rise to the occasion. He also doesn't let me go too far down a rabbit hole—he brings me back with a kind word. Or a joke." Israel adds some of the wisdom he has garnered during his time with Dane: "After so many years together, you realize that you grow in different ways at different times. You have to allow each other the space to do that while believing that you won't grow apart. Sometimes it's just a leap of faith."

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Online Exlusive: Ailsa Stewart-Wallace and Dewayne Wallace


Ailsa Stewart-Wallace, 52, fifth-grade teacher

Dewayne Wallace, 46, environmental engineer

Children: Joshua, 14

Years Married: 16

Fort Myers, Florida

At first it was Ailsa's looks that captured Dewayne's attention. "The first time I saw her, I was attracted to her striking beauty. She is gorgeous! Then I got to know her. She was intelligent, had an informed opinion on sports—and I loved her [Trinidadian] accent." But it was her gift of forgiveness that really made her stand out. Back when the couple first met and their friendship was growing, Dewayne admits that he felt that she was getting too close too soon and he got scared. He pulled away and hurt her feelings, but her actions made him see her for who she really was. "I knew I could trust her with my heart after she forgave me for the way I treated her." For Ailsa's part, it was Dwayne's "love for God, " intelligence, athleticism and spirituality and that made her feel connected to him. She also liked how Dewayne would listen to Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder on their dates because he knew it was her favorite music.

With time, their appreciation of each other has grown. "I am so thankful for his selflessness; Dewayne will do anything for me and those I care about. When I am in one of those selfish 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine,' moods, he does not complain. He'll sacrifice time, sleep and the things that he loves to do in order to make sure that I have all that I need. The ultimate gift is that he has been driving me around for the last six years because of my fear of getting behind the wheel." Dewayne has noticed that what he loves about Ailsa has developed over the years. "It's funny thinking about it, but the things I love now are different. She is still so beautiful, but now I am inspired by her passion to teach her students, and I just love the way she loves our son—she is a great mom." The shift to parenthood was a surprise for Dewayne. "I remember having Ailsa all to myself, and suddenly I had to share her emotionally and physically," he says. "It was a challenge, even though intellectually I understood." Ailsa says that she can hardly remember what life was like before Joshua, whom she calls an incredible human being and a "delight." She says, "I believe that everything we do now, we do it with him in mind."

Sometimes those major steps that couples take to move ahead can be initially disruptive, despite a positive outcome. "Our biggest challenge was Dewayne's decision to leave a high-paying but stressful job to go back to school and switch careers," Ailsa shares. "I was a stay-at-home mom and loving it, so having a reduced income and less time as a family was very hard." Dewayne agrees that it put a strain on their marriage, but he's happy that he now has the ability to take care of his family by a means that he's proud of. "Going back to school was more about that, along with my desire to be an example to our son."

And although both jokingly admit the other has some habits that drive them a little crazy—for her, it's his procrastination; for him, it's the fact that she worries about things that "in the long run don't matter, like pillows on the bed, Joshua's hairstyle choices and dirty laundry"—the only thing Dewayne would change about their marriage would require a time machine. "I wish I had met her sooner."